Computer Access for Ugandans
In a hot, grey warehouse, Public Service Fellow Biyeun Bucyk ('10, Course 6) paints a sign that will direct locals to InterConnection Uganda (ICU), a computer refurbishing center in Kampala, Uganda. With the recently established Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, this new refurbishing center is part of a greater initiative to increase computer access, especially among youths. To decrease the cost of Internet access, the government recently constructed an Internet backbone to compete with the two privately owned lines. Expensive shipping costs and the time spent refurbishing donated computers limited the amount of time teachers could spend with students. From this challenge arose InterConnection Uganda.
As the acting supervisor of ICU, Biyen worked for two months over the summer in 2007, overseeing the shipments, the construction of the network and backup system, training staff members, and documenting operations. A year-round source for refurbished computers, ICU provides community members with IT jobs and training, and generates the income to pay for incoming shipments of Computers for Uganda (CFU), an organization that connects US high school students with Ugandan schools. In high school, Biyeun was a technical leader for CFU. " I remember letting the students loose on the computer, watching them look things up in Encarta, watching them absorb the information here was a computer: a huge, gigantic, compressed library of information," Biyeun recalls. While CFU volunteers are only in Uganda three weeks each year, ICU provides the technical support to run the school computer labs year-round. After the initial setup, the CFU team, led by two Microsoft employees, arrives and helps with further setup.
"I'm here to bring fuel for creativity," said Biyeun, "because every wide-eyed student I meet can change this country. I want to see them contribute to the economy by creating new, innovative businesses. I want to see them investigate the problems in their communities on their own and actually have resources to find solutions. I want to teach them to teach themselves, and I think there is no better and cheaper tool for that in this environment than a computer and access to the Internet." Biyeun was given a unique opportunity to experience all Uganda had to offer. She met the Vice President and dined with the First Lady. "I was immersed completely in the Ugandan culture. I learned how to navigate around Kampala on matatus (public taxis/buses), how to speak a little Ugandan, how to setup and run a business in a developing country, and how to adapt to unexpected changes."